“In ancient times, Winter Solstice festivals were the last celebrations held before the deep, hard winter began. There was plenty of food and wine, for now, – and hopes that all would survive the coming famine months until spring arrived again.”
On May 1 it is Sahmain in the Southern Hemisphere. It is not Winter Solstice but ‘Winter is Coming’. As the days shorten our thoughts turn to life and death, to the past and the future, to what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained and what we are yet to do with our one wild and beautiful life. It felt like the right time to spend a few moments in quiet reflection in a cemetery.
Take the time to pick up the energy of the Cemetery you choose to visit. Find the grave that calls to you. Shuffle and lay out some cards and then spend quiet reflective time journaling.
Some 200 children were buried at Pennyweight Flat Children’s Cemetery between 1852 and 1857, during the height of the Australian gold rush, and not much has happened here since. There have been no more burials. There’s no garden to tend to. No fresh flowers. But you will find small offerings from children who leave toys on the graves.
In a post Tania Braukamper notes that “Aside from those few with markings, the babies and children buried here are voiceless, nameless; nothing but soft bones and dust crushed beneath anonymity and piles of arid earth. The tiny mounds are even sadder because they are mute: the dead are always silent, but the unmarked dead are the quietest of all.”
Skeleton Stan and I doubted that these children remain voiceless, agreeing that it is just a matter of listening.
Stan, being a dead dude, is the perfect conduit to communicate with the tiny residents of this place so he and I agreed to go and try listening.
We took some Inner Child Cards out with us and visited an unmarked grave. We waited quietly to see if the resident had any message for us.
It was very moving when the card that emerged told the story of Peter Pan.
The story of Peter Pan begins in the nursery of the Darling household in London, where Wendy, John, and Michael are going to bed when they are surprised by the arrival of Peter Pan and the fairy Tinker Bell. Peter is a little boy who lives in the faraway world of Never Never Land who has come to retrieve his shadow, which he had previously lost there. Peter reveals that he lives in the Never Land as captain of the Lost Boys, children who fell out of their baby carriages when their nurses were looking the other way.
As a young mischievous boy with the power to fly, Peter Pan sweeps Wendy into his world and takes her to the promised Never Land. It is there that the pair encounters friends and foes alike, ranging from the loyal Tinker Bell to the antagonistic Captain Hook.
Neither Stan or I felt a shadow emerge from the grave but we both heard voices calling us to come again but we agreed that if these children are residing in a place like Never Never Land, telling stories, having adventures and living in a big hollow tree, this is a comforting thought.
In 2018 I did a ‘Danse with the Macabre’ when I visited Sedlec Ossuary (aka Kostnice Ossuary Beinhaus). It was one of the highlights of my week long stay in the Czech Republic.
“Known to most as “the Bone Church,” it displays some of the world’s more macabre art. In addition to a splendid bone chandelier composed of almost every bone in a human body, the ossuary displays two large bone chalices, four baroque bone candelabras, six enormous bone pyramids, two bone monstrances (a vessel used to display the Eucharistic host), a family crest in (you guessed it) bone, and skull candle holders. Festively looping chains of bone are hung throughout like crepe paper at a birthday party.”
In the Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, skeletons escort living humans to their graves in a lively waltz. Kings, knights, and commoners alike join in, conveying that regardless of status, wealth, or accomplishments in life, death comes for everyone. At a time when outbreaks of the Black Death and seemingly endless battles between France and England in the Hundred Years’ War left thousands of people dead, macabre images like the Dance of Death were a way to confront the ever-present prospect of mortality.
Though a few earlier examples exist in literature, the first known visual Dance of Death comes from around 1424. It was a large fresco painted in the open arcade of the charnel house in Paris’s Cemetery of the Holy Innocents. Stretched across a long section of wall and visible from the open courtyard of the cemetery, the fresco depicted human figures (all male) accompanied by cavorting skeletons in a long procession. A verse inscribed on the wall below each of the living figures explained the person’s station in life, arranged in order of social status from pope and emperor to shepherd and farmer. Clothing and accessories, like the pope’s cross-shaped staff and robes, or the farmer’s hoe and simple tunic, also helped identify each person.
The Death card is one of the most feared and misunderstood cards. Spread by movies trying to sensationalize drama and abused by the occasional unscrupulous reader, the Death Card strikes fear into the heart of anyone who doesn’t understand it. The Death card frightens many people, for they think it means that they, or someone they love, is going to die — although when they hear it signals great change, they can become frightened of that, too, even if they need it.
Rather than fear the Death Card embrace it by taking a deck of cards and visiting a cemetery like the one I visited in my region.
I stopped at the headstone, erected for Pte Alfred Frederick and contemplated the impact of his death at just 20 years of age, the utter waste of war. All around me was evidence of change, which is actually what the Death Card is all about.
Over to you
Lay out some Death Cards and meditate on the message
Consider taking the opportunity to ‘Danse Macabre’ by visiting a cemetery with a deck of cards and doing this spread.
You only have to watch Ricky Gervais’s dark comedy, ‘After Life’, to know that many people spend time at gravesites chatting to a beloved who has died. Many mothers have gone to children’s graves seeking peace. However gone are the days when families picnicked in the grounds of cemeteries Now most historic cemeteries lie quietly with barely a visitor these days. I love to visit with my picnic basket and a deck of Tarot cards to have a graveside chat. There is much to learn from those who are resting in these fading spaces.
There is an unlikely drawcard between the old gold cities of Ballarat and Bendigo and yet it would be all too easy to pass by and not notice it. The Sandon Cemetery is a must visit for the slow travelling cemetery explorer.
Each year hundreds of Catholic pilgrims pause here on their 90 kilometre walk between the cathedrals at Ballarat and Bendigo to rest their weary soles and too sing. I have passed the parade on the Creswick to Newstead road and wondered what it was all about. It was only recently that a Sandon local told me about the pilgrimage and how the pilgrims sing at the gravesites. This gives a whole new meaning to the Clarissa Pinkola Estes story about singing over bones.
Sandon Cemetery is a special place for the cemetery explorer. This place shares one of the regions great landscapes. When you stand amongst the weather beaten headstones you can look through white-trunked eucalyptus trees towards the rising Sandon basalt ridge. No wonder a community of Swiss-Italian migrants chose this part of Central Victoria as home.
I have visited regularly but it was only on my recent visit that I decided that rather than sing to the bones (no self respecting bones would enjoy the rasping sound from my vocal chords) I would talk to the bones and ask them to share a message about their life and how I should live.
The result is that I have a whole new hobby and interest, revisiting historic cemeteries to have graveside chats.
Annie (8 years) and Henry Clifton (6 years) were burnt to death at Spring Gully in 1827.
When the Fool appeared it was very evident that the Martell’s were highlighting that life really is a Fool’s journey.
David Jenkin Davies died at just 27 as the result of a mining accident. When the devil emerged it was clear that he was commenting on the negligence of the those who managed the mine.